Saturday, December 13, 2014

Poetry Reading – Dec 9, 2014

This was a subdued gathering of seven readers, but the coverage of poetry was as international as readers have come to expect at a poetry session.

Zakia, KumKum, & Talitha

Ramanujan, Angelou, Graves, Swift, Rice, Syzmborska, and Paz is an unusual combination; one of them may not be a poet at all. All were from the 20th century, except Swift. So short a list, yet count two Nobels.

KumKum, Talitha, Preeti, Pamela, & Zakia (back to camera)

There was not only variety in the poetry, but an even greater variety in the kinds of things these poets did, from writing plays and political pamphlets to dancing and diplomacy.

Preeti & Pamela

Have we run out of new poets to explore? Consider four of the seven have been read at previous sessions. But here we are, happy as could be, at the end of another reading: 

Kavita, Talitha, KumKum, Pamela, Zakia, & Joe


Full Account of the Poetry Reading on Dec 9, 2014

Present: Pamela, Preeti, Joe, Talitha, KumKum, Zakia, Kavita
Absent: Ankush (duty he can't deny – he's off to Chennai), Govind (?), Gopa (mystery ailment caused a derailment), Priya (to attend football, at a nephew's call), Sunil (family obligation, Thrissur's the destination), Mathew (he was on tour, to Singapore)

Zakia, KumKum & Talitha

The next reading for the novel Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain has been fixed already for Fri Jan 23, 2015. We are gathering for the annual eating session for lunch at KumKum's place on Jan 26, 2015; significant others are duly encouraged to attend.

The next poetry session is fixed for Wed, Feb 11.

The one remaining fiction choice (for July 2015) was announced by Talitha – Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. With this the entire 2015 novel selection is as follows:

JanHuckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
MarLight in August by William Faulkner
MayThe Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
July Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
SepFive short detective stories by Edgar Allan Poe
NovMy Antonia by Willa Cather


1. Kavita
Helen Steiner Rice

Kavita read a Christmas poem by a woman who wrote inspirational verse and was a lead writer for a greeting card company, American Greetings Corporation. Indeed the 'poem' Kavita read must have been the text of a  greeting card for it ends
And may the spirit of Christmas that forever endures
Leave its richest blessings in the hearts of you and yours

The last phrase is clumsy; a rhyme has been constructed with the required number of beats, but at the cost of felicity in the phrase 'hearts of you.'

Pam liked the lines
For I am but a total of the many folks I've met,
And you happen to be one of those I prefer not to forget
and
The best gifts life can offer is meeting folks like you.

KumKum chimed in saying it's exactly what she felt about her friends. 'Very beautiful!'

KumKum said in the old days her house used to be full of cards at Christmas/New Year. She would send e-mail to special people. Joe mentioned the debate about teaching cursive writing to children in schools in USA. KumKum recalled growing up and writing with a pen whose nib had to be dipped in the inkwell every so often. Then came fountain pens.

Ms Rice became a successful businesswoman and her books of inspirational verse have sold millions of copies. Such sales figures would certainly put any real poet to shame, for as Robert Graves said,
There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.
Ms Rice's religious faith was strong undercurrent of what she wrote. She got good TV exposure in the sixties which enhanced her popularity.


2. KumKum
Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz is regarded as an important Mexican poet, essayist, journalist, an important political voice, and visual art aficionado of the modern time. Though Paz wrote in Spanish, the beauty, the verve and the spirituality of his poems reached the wider world via translation. In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity".

Ocativo Paz had a very special relationship with India. He was posted in New Delhi as Mexico's Ambassador during 1962-68. He was there in the heady days of the late Nehruvian era. Paz was charmed by Nehru, and the other stalwart Indian leaders, as well as the legendary diplomats from other countries of this period, as well. Paz considered that he had his second birth during this time in India. Incidentally, Paz met and married his French wife while he was a diplomat in India. The ceremony took place in the vast garden of the Mexican Embassy, New Delhi. The marriage lasted until his death.

During his time in India, Paz travelled extensively through the vast country to experience India, its people, and its idiosyncrasies with passion, and scholarship, beyond the call of his duty as a diplomat. In the collection of poems East Slope (1962-68), his book of essays Monkey Grammarian (1970), and elsewhere in his oeuvre, one senses this pulsating feeling of Paz for everything Indian.  In the second poem on Elephanta island, the image of picnic garbage rankles; it still the way things are in India – garbage everywhere, people caring little for cleanliness in public. Will the 'Swachh Bharat' campaign make a difference?

The Spanish Dept of JNU celebrates Octavio Paz quite often. Some years back, KumKum was fortunate to attend one such session at the India International Centre, New Delhi. She heard scholars, who knew Paz personally, talk eloquently about him. And, in subsequent years, she begun to read Paz.

Later, as a teacher at the Foreign Language Dept at WVU, KumKum could establish a good-natured relationship with her Mexican students through Octavio Paz. Many a time, her students would enjoy a Mexican-Indian dinner (Mexican Corn Arepa – like an appam – with Indian Chicken Curry) cooked at her home, and then recite Paz. 

This year, Paz's Centenary was celebrated in New Delhi. He was born on March 31, 1914 in Mexico city, and died on April 19, 1998 in Mexico City. 'I feel privileged to celebrate Octavio Paz with the KRG members on his birth centenary,' said KumKum. 

Joe said there is some geographical confusion in a poem labeled Cochin referring to Travancore. The elephantiasis mentioned in the penultimate line, was common enough in the fifties and sixties, but has been eliminated now.


3. Pamela
Jonathan Swift
Portrait by Rupert Barber without a wig

Swift is best known for Gulliver’s Travels. He was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, poet and a priest who became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Pamela said Swift was equally adept in the two styles of satire: Horatian and Juvenalian, named after Latin authors. The first dates from 65 BCE, and is witty and light-hearted. The second is from the 1st century AD, is more pessimistic and heaps scorn on social evils. In the poem she read about an army general being remembered after his death, the first part adopts the Horatian mode, and the second part, the Juvenalian.

Accordingly the lines
Threescore, I think, is pretty high;
Twas time in conscience he should die

elicited laughter from KumKum. The general scorned is John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Swift had previously written of him: "I confess my belief that he has not one good quality in the world beside that of a general, and even that I have heard denied by several great soldiers." See
Neither the sighs of widows nor the orphans left behind shed any tears for 'He made them weep before he died' by being responsible for the killing of the soldiers under him.

Talitha mentioned how cruel and heartless Swift could be in his satire, citing an essay called A Modest Proposal in which his solution for the Irish potato famine was to boil all the babies and serve them as food for the rich! She said the last book of Gulliver's Travels is marred by vituperation against men.


4. Joe
Robert Graves

Robert Graves lived long and wrote so much and so steadily that his works comprise over 140 books and a thousand or more poems. He was writing poetry as a young teenager, and later took to it with fervour, inventing the myth of a White Goddess who was there to seduce authors, to goad them, and inspire them. The White Goddess constituted the female principle which he felt should rule the world above corrupt patriarchy. But before that there was the nasty matter of World War I to which he was drawn soon after schooling in Charterhouse. The war left him shell-shocked, wounded by shrapnel, left for dead. But he recovered and became friends with other poets who shared the horror of that war. Late in the senility of his last decade of life, he would start if he heard a loud report and start blabbering in German (his mother was German and he had 8 cousins fighting the war on the other side).

He desperately tried to forget the Great War and a memoir he wrote, Goodbye to All That, constitutes the line he drew under it. His war poems were finished and he never got back to that subject except in conversation.

His life is wrapped up with the island of Mallorca, a Spanish island to which he fled soon after getting married to Nancy Nicholson. Then he got to know a woman poet, Laura Riding, whose work he admired and invited her to come stay. Three years later he upped and left London and thought of Laura coming into his life as a magical event. She became critic, mentor, lover and muse for many years in the island where they set up, until the fascists came to power and the Spanish Civil war loomed. They left for Pennsylvania where Laura found favour with a critic Jackson. She left Graves – that was a terrible wound. He returned to England and collaborated with Alan Hodge, a young poet in writing a terrific book, The Reader Over Your Shoulder. Alan found Graves taking to his wife, Beryl and surrendered her but maintained a long friendship with Graves.

In 1944 Graves was overcome with inspiration and wrote The White Goddess in a fit of ecstasy in 2 months. Like many of his books it is still in print. It focusses on the female deity, a Moon Goddess and Earth Mother, controlling seasons and fertility and inspiration. T.S. Eliot was taken by it and they had a long correspondence. After the war Graves returned to Mallorca and found his library and house well-maintained and continued to live there, occasionally going on tours. He was surprised to find he was a celebrity when he went to USA in the sixties. For a more detailed biography see

For a personal pen portrait of him by a person who kew him well, see the essay by Alastair Reed in the New Yorker (Sept 4, 1995 issue):

His eccentricity comes out unalloyed in the Paris review interview:

Graves saw himself primarily as a poet. From 1915 until his death in December 1985 at the age of 90, his output was prodigious. However, in the late Twenties he set aside his wartime poetry and it was not published again in his lifetime.

The first poem is the only one from the Western front Joe chose to recite. It's called A Dead Boche. Graves used the commonly used WWI term ‘‘Boche’’ to describe a German soldier. It was a disparaging derivation of the French word caboche for cabbage. Ironically, Graves’s mother was German and seven of his cousins were killed fighting in the German army.

Robert Graves as a man was individual and eccentric. Stephen Spender in the New York Times Book Review characterized Graves as a free thinker:
All of his life Graves has been indifferent to fashion, and the great and deserved reputation he has is based on his individuality as a poet who is both intensely idiosyncratic and unlike any other contemporary poet and at the same time classical.

He was a rebel socially too, for Graves left his wife and four children in 1929 to live in the island of Mallorca with Laura Riding, an American poet. She persuaded him to curb his digressiveness and his rambling philosophising, and to concentrate instead on terse, ironic poems written on personal themes.

Graves had a "mystical and reverent attitude to the mother goddess," that muse of Poetry to whom he referred by a variety of names, including Calliope and the White Goddess. The Muse symbolism permeates Graves's writing: the female figure who creates, nourishes, seduces, destroys.

The second poem, The Face in the Mirror, is a self-portrait, something more usually done by painters. The poet is describing himself as he looks in the mirror to shave. At the end he is amazed, disillusioned as he is from the war experience, that the figure in the mirror still stands ready to serve the queen!

Graves was a master craftsman in both prose and verse and wrote some of the best love poetry of the twentieth century. Terse and always lucid, his style is characterised by a plain, sinewy and forceful diction. Joe read the poem Woman and Tree which starts out sceptically, asking whether any single woman is worthy of complete devotion. But what if there exists such a woman as
Wholly to glamour his wild heart?

Graves once told his students that "the poet's chief loyalty is to the Goddess Calliope, not to his publisher or to the booksellers on his publisher's mailing list.” He believed you had to live like a poet, and so he did. Joe ended with a quote:
Since the age of 15 poetry has been my ruling passion and I have never intentionally undertaken any task or formed any relationship that seemed inconsistent with poetic principles; which has sometimes won me the reputation of an eccentric.


5. Preeti
Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou reciting "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's Inauguration, Jan 1993

Maya Angelou, though known today primarily as author and poet, was also in her youth a dancer, actress and singer. She published several autobiographies over time, 3 books of essays, and several books of poetry. She received many awards and honorary degrees.

She became a poet and writer after a series of professions, including that of journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonisation of Africa. She was active in the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning at President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993.

With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her difficult personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson for black people and women. She made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books centre on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel.

Preeti discovered Maya Angelou, when she came across a few lines from her poem Phenomenal Woman. The poem, was beautiful in putting in words, feelings that Preeti resonated with. Each of her poems evokes a different and powerful feeling. On the Pulse of the Morning in which the Rock, The Tree and the River are reminding the reader that he is part of a bigger stage and with a bigger purpose and role to play on life’s stage. And, once the words have spun and stirred all these larger-than-life feelings, the poem ends simply, with the sun rising upon a new morning of possibilities. It's an end that feels like a beginning.

Here's a primary source of information on the poet:
http://mayaangelou.com/

KumKum said she really enjoyed it, seeing Angelou on TV reading the poem on a cold frosty morning when President Clinton chose her to recite an Inaugural poem. You can view it here:

Talitha said the poem clothes the image of a new America rising with Biblical imagery.
Preeti

Preeti forgot to bring along the poems in hard copy for the other readers; she read instead from her Macbook. Should we have a facility for projecting iPads, Kindles, and laptops on the wall for readers to follow? Preeti said she loved tales in verse, and referred to The Frog and the Nightingale by Vikram Seth which ends:
Well, poor bird – she should have known
That your song must be your own.

You can read a post in the KRG blog on the delightful occasion when VS read this very poem from his book Beastly Tales from here and there

Preeti also mentioned (I don't recall in what connection) Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, a novel by Irish writer Roddy Doyle which won the Booker Prize in 1993. Two men talk in a bar endlessly, using a lot of cuss words, about the Greek economy, women's lib, and so on. You can read about it here:

And as an aside Preeti mentioned Roddy Doyle's rude, funny and intelligent poems -  Two Pints (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Two-Pints-Roddy-Doyle/dp/0224097814 ), and here's another one, There's no footballer called Plato
http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2011/06/theres-no-footballer-called-plato-by-roddy-doyle-via-facebook.html 

In another unrelated comment she referred to the website

as containing interesting stories about ordinary people in New York met on the street; they serve up confessional anecdotes about themselves and are willingly photographed. It seems the author of the blog, Brandon Stanton, is so famous that when he showed up in Connaught Place, New Delhi, a spontaneous crowd gathered and the police had a hard time managing the resulting traffic jams.


6. Talitha
Wisława Syzmborska

Talitha introduced the Polish poet Szymborska (Joe recited once before in 2103) who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature. The Nobel Committee cited her "for poetry that with ironic precision that allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.

The Award Speech by Szymborska is here:

In her Acceptance Speech she paints the poet's occupation as a drab one:
Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens ... Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?

She values the phrase 'I don't know,' for it presages a search which may result in something, however tentative:
Poets, if they're genuine, must also keep repeating "I don't know." Each poem marks an effort to answer this statement, but as soon as the final period hits the page, the poet begins to hesitate, starts to realize that this particular answer was pure makeshift that's absolutely inadequate to boot. So the poets keep on trying, and sooner or later the consecutive results of their self-dissatisfaction are clipped together with a giant paperclip by literary historians and called their "oeuvre"

Talitha mentioned a collection of poems by Szymborska, Monologue of a Dog, which you can read about here:

The first poem On Death, without Exaggeration, is a narration of all the things death kills, but its universal victory is negated, if only for a moment, because
Whoever claims that it's omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it's not.

In the second poem the poet enunciates her preferences: movies, cats, exceptions, etc and this too:
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.

Coming from a country kept under the heel of the Soviet Union after WWII, this is understandable.


7. Zakia
A.K Ramanujan

Attipate Krishnaswami Ramanujan was an Indian poet and scholar who wrote in English and Kannada. He enjoyed working in several areas: philology, folklore collecting, translating, and writing plays. Although learned in five languages (English, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit) he was more interested in modern Indian tongues than in Sanskrit because he felt that they “represent a democratic, anti-hierarchic, from-the-ground-up view of India.”

Though he wrote widely and in a number of genres, Ramanujan's poems are remembered as enigmatic works of startling originality, sophistication and moving artistry. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award posthumously in 1999 for his collection of poems, The Collected Poems.

Ramanujan was born in Mysore and educated at Marimallappa's High School, Mysore, and at the Maharaja College of Mysore. In college, Ramanujan majored in science, but his father, a mathematician, who thought him 'not mathematically minded', persuaded him to change his major from science to English. Later, Ramanujan became a Fulbright Scholar at Indiana University during the years 1959 to 1962. He received his PhD in Linguistics from Indiana University.

In 1962 he joined the University of Chicago as an assistant professor and spent the rest of his life there, shaping that university’s well-known South Asian Studies program.

A. K. Ramanujan died in Chicago, on 13 July 1993 as result of adverse reaction to anaesthesia during preparation for surgery.

Here's a personal recollection by an American student of Ramanujan's wife, Molly Daniels-Ramanujan, who used to conduct a writing workshop at Chicago U:
http://bittergracenotes.blogspot.in/2007/07/k-ramanujan.html

Still Life, the first poem is a short sharp glance at a missing person who has left her bite engraved in the remains of a sandwich. Such single images are recorded in haikus by the Japanese. Is there a form equivalent to haiku in English poesy?

In Self-Portrait Ramanujan is stating in a roundabout way that he resembles his father. Contrast with Robert Graves' poem in this reading on the same subject. The third poem A River has this striking observation of a dry riverbed
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away ...

Notice how the elimination of punctuation marks makes the reader trip up, for even line endings are arbitrary in 'modern poetry', having no correlation with pauses.


The Poems

1. Kavita
Helen Steiner Rice (1900 – 1981)
A Christmas Poem
I have a list of folks I know, all written in a book
And every year when Christmas comes, I go and take a look,
And that is when I realize that these names are a part
Not of the book they are writte
n in, but really of my heart

For each name stands for someone who has c
rossed my path sometime,
And in the meeting they've become the rhythm in each rhyme
And while it sounds fantastic for me to make this claim,
I really feel that I'm composed of each remembered name

And while you may not be aware of any special link
Just meeting you has changed my life a lot more than you think
For once I've met somebody, the years cannot erase
The memory of a pleasant word or of a friendly face

So never think my Christmas cards are just a mere routine
Of names upon a Christmas list, forgotten in between,
For when I send a Christmas card that is addressed to you,
It is because you're on the list that I'm indebted to

For I am but a total of the many folks I've met,
And you happen to be one of those I prefer not to forget
And whether I have known you for many years or few,
In some ways you have a part in shaping things I do

And every year when Christmas comes, I realize anew,
The best gifts life can offer is meeting folks like you.
And may the spirit of Christmas that forever endures
Leave its richest blessings in the hearts of you and yours


2. KumKum
Octavio Paz (19141998) translations by E. Weinberger
Cochin
Standing on tiptoe
to watch us go by,
among the coco-palms
tiny and white,
the Portuguese church.
Cinnamon-coloured sails.
The wind picks up:
breasts in breath.
With shawls of foam,
jasmine in their hair
and earrings of gold,
they go off to six o’clock mass
not in Mexico City or Cadiz:
in Travancore.
Beating more furiously
before the Nestorian patriarch:
my heretical heart.
In the Christian cemetry graze
dogmatic
probably Shaivite
cows.
The same eyes see, the same afternoon:
the
bougainvillea with its thousand arms,
elephantiasis with its violent legs,
between the pink sea and the jaundiced palms.

Sunday On The Island of Elephanta
IMPRECATION:
At the feet of the sublime sculptures,
disfigured by the Muslims and the Portuguese,
the crowds have left a picnic of garbage
for the crows and dogs
I condemn them to be reborn a hundred times
on a dungheap,
and as for the others,
for eons they must carve living flesh
in the hell for the mutilators of statues

INVOCATION:
Shiva and Parvati:
we worship you
not as gods
but as images
of the divinity of man
You are what man makes and is not,
what man will be
when he has served the sentence of hard labor
Shiva:
your four arms are four rivers,
four jets of water.
Your whole being is a fountain
where the lovely Parvati bathes,
where she rocks like a graceful boat.
The sea beats beneath the sun:
it is the great lips of Shiva laughing;
the sea is ablaze:
it is the steps of parvati on the waters
Shiva and Parvati:
the woman who is my wife
and I
ask you for nothing, nothing
that comes from the other world:
only
the light on the sea,
the barefoot light on the sleeping land and sea.

Across
I turn the page of the day,
writing what I'm told
by the motion of your eyelashes.

I enter you,
the truthfulness of the dark.
I want proofs of darkness, want
to drink the black wine:
take my eyes and crush them.

A drop of night
on your breast's tip:
mysteries of the carnation.

Closing my eyes
I open them inside your eyes.

Always awake
on its garnet bed:
your wet tongue.

There are fountains
in the garden of your veins.

With a mask of blood
I cross your thoughts blankly:
amnesia guides me
to the other side of life. 


3. Pamela
Jonathan Swift (16671745)
A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General
His Grace! impossible! what dead!
Of old age too, and in his bed!
And could that mighty warrior fall?
And so inglorious, after all!
Well, since he’s gone, no matter how,
The last loud trump must wake him now:
And, trust me, as the noise grows stronger,
He’d wish to sleep a little longer.
And could he be indeed so old
As by the newspapers we’re told?
Threescore, I think, is pretty high;
Twas time in conscience he should die
This world he cumbered long enough;
He burnt his candle to the snuff;
And that’s the reason, some folks think,
He left behind so great a stink.
Behold his funeral appears,
Nor widow’s sighs, nor orphan’s tears,
Wont at such times each heart to pierce,
Attend the progress of his hearse.
But what of that, his friends may say,
He had those honours in his day.
True to his profit and his pride,
He made them weep before he died.

    Come hither, all ye empty things,
Ye bubbles raised by breath of kings;
Who float upon the tide of state,
Come hither, and behold your fate.
Let pride be taught by this rebuke,
How very mean a thing’s a Duke;
From all his ill-got honours flung,
Turned to that dirt from whence he sprung.




4. Joe
Robert Graves (1895 1985)
A Dead BocheTO you who’d read my songs of War
And only hear of blood and fame,
I’ll say (you’ve heard it said before)
War’s Hell!” and if you doubt the same,
Today I found in Mametz Wood
A certain cure for lust of blood:
Where, propped against a shattered trunk,
In a great mess of things unclean,
Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk
With clothes and face a sodden green,
Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,
Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.


2. The Face in the Mirror
Grey haunted eyes, absent-mindedly glaring
From wide, uneven orbits; one brow drooping
Somewhat over the eye
Because of a missile fragment still inhering,
Skin-deep, as a foolish record of old-world fighting.
Crookedly broken nose — low tackling caused it;
Cheeks, furrowed; coarse grey hair, flying frenetic;
Forehead, wrinkled and high;
Jowls, prominent; ears, large; jaw, pugilistic;
Teeth, few; lips, full and ruddy; mouth, ascetic.
I pause with razor poised, scowling derision
At the mirrored man whose beard needs my attention,
And once more ask him why
He still stands ready, with a boy’s presumption,
To court the queen in her high silk pavilion.
(New Yorker, Jan 12, 1957)


3. An English Wood
This valley wood is pledged
To the set shape of things,
And reasonably hedged:
Here are no harpies fledged,
No rocs may clap their wings,
Nor gryphons wave their stings.
Here, poised in quietude,
Calm elementals brood
On the set shape of things:
They fend away alarms
From this green wood.
Here nothing is that harms -
No bulls with lungs of brass,
No toothed or spiny grass,
No tree whose clutching arms
Drink blood when travellers pass,
No mount of glass;
No bardic tongues unfold
Satires or charms.
Only, the lawns are soft,
The tree-stems, grave and old;
Slow branches sway aloft,
The evening air comes cold,
The sunset scatters gold.
Small grasses toss and bend,
Small pathways idly tend
Towards no fearful end.


4. The difference between you and her
(whom I to you did once prefer)
Is clear enough to settle:
She like a diamond shone, but you
Shine like an early drop of dew
Poised on a red rose petal.

The dew-drop carries in its eye
Mountain and forest, sea and sky,
With every change of weather;
Contrariwise, a diamond splits
The prospect into idle bits
That none can piece together.”

5. WOMAN AND TREE
To love one woman, or to sit
Always beneath the same tall tree,
Argues a certain lack of wit
Two steps from imbecility.

A poet, therefore, sworn to feed
On every food the senses know,
Will claim the inexorable need
To be Don Juan Tenorio.

Yet if, miraculously enough,
(And why set miracles apart?)
Woman and tree prove of a stuff
Wholly to glamour his wild heart?

And if such visions from the void
As shone in fever there, or there,
Assemble, hold and are enjoyed
On climbing one familiar stair…?

To change and chance he took a vow,
As he thought fitting. None the less,
What of a phoenix on the bough,
Or a sole woman’s fatefulness?


5. Preeti
Maya Angelou (19282014)
On the Pulse of the Morning
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours- your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.


6. Talitha
Wisława Anna Szymborska (19232012)
(Poems Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh)
On Death, without Exaggeration
It can't take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.
In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.
It can't even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.
Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.
Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!
Sometimes it isn't strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.
All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.
Ill will won't help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d'etat
is so far not enough.
Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies' skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.
Whoever claims that it's omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it's not.
There's no life
that couldn't be immortal
if only for a moment.
Death
always arrives by that very moment too late.
In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you've come
can't be undone. 
Utopia
Island where all becomes clear.
Solid ground beneath your feet.
The only roads are those that offer access.
Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.
The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.
The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.
The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.
If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.
Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.
On the right a cave where Meaning lies.
On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.
Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.
For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.
As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.
Into unfathomable life.
Possibilities
I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms' fairy tales to the newspapers' front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven't mentioned here
to many things I've also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.
7. Zakia
A.K Ramanujan (1929 – 1993)
1. Still Life
When she left me
after lunch, I read
for a while.
But I suddenly wanted
to look again
and I saw the half-eaten
sandwich,
bread,
lettuce and salami,
all carrying the shape
of her bite.

2. Self-Portrait
I resemble everyone
but myself, and sometimes see
in shop-windows
  despite the well-known laws
  of optics,
the portrait of a stranger,
date unknown,
often signed in a corner
by my father.

3. A River
In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women's hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.

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